How does a seal get an eel in its nose?
Earlier this week, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program published the picture above and showed an unfortunate picture of young seal with an eel in its nose. Surprisingly, it is not the first time that researchers have hit a pinniped in such an emergency.
Hawaiian monk seals are an endangered species. The research program, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, involves six major populations of monk seals investigating their health, nutrition, population structure, and ecology, with the goal of minimizing threats and helping these small populations survive and thrive. The researchers pay close attention to the animals they notice when something strange happens like a nasal cavity.
About two years ago, for example, another seal was found in which about four inches of eel hung from the nostril. The team was worried about the potential danger to the seal: it snorted a little, and if it dived low or tried to swim, the nose room might have created a passage through which water could penetrate the lungs' lungs. The research team decided that it would be worthwhile capturing the seal for no more than 60 seconds to remove the nasal intruder.
" We're pretty sure the entire animal was removed because the skull was found, but fins or spines may have come loose from the eel while losing weight," the researcher wrote on Facebook. "The seal did not struggle much, and no blood came out when the eel was removed."
Even this last nasal cavity was removed with a "slow, steady pull" was unhurt; the eel was killed, however.
Researchers are not sure why this goes on, explains Charles Littnan, the program's senior scientist, in an email. It seems to be a new trend: the researchers have observed the phenomenon nasal eel in recent years, only after decades of monitoring monk seals.
One theory is that eels may get into the nostrils of seals as seals search for food in cracks and crevices in coral reefs, Littnan writes. A disturbed eel may try to defend itself or run in front of the curious seal and then land in the nasal cavity. Or maybe the seal swallowed the eel and had to wake it up again – the monk seal version, where milk was snorted up your nose. The mechanism that causes seals to sit in the nose with eels is a mystery.